The $100,000 Pastor

  • A friend recently sent me a link to an article at churchleaders.com, entitled “Why Our Staff Is Required to Tithe”.  You can find the full article here.

    Written by Dr. Tim Spivey, a pastor described as “Lead Planter” of a church in San Diego, the piece sets out a number of reasons why giving is a sign of spiritual maturity and why it should be expected of church leaders.

    Spivey makes the point that “Creating a culture of generosity in your church begins with cultivating generous leadership”, a sentiment with which I completely agree.  But then he mentions the issue of clergy compensation.

    “If you are paying staff so little it [tithing] becomes a backbreaking burden — consider practicing generosity toward your staff by raising pay. Paying little and not expecting them to give holds back everyone involved. It’s better to pay them generously and expect them to give generously.”

    Dr. Tim Spivey

    How much should clergy be paid?  I suspect that there are very few pastors in the Eastern Synod who don’t deserve more than they’re getting currently.  Why shouldn’t the pastor earn as much as other professionals in the community with similar levels of education and responsibility?  Would there be anything inherently wrong with paying your pastor a salary (not including benefits and allowances) of $100,000 per year?

    In Ontario the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, 1996 mandates the annual publication of the name, title and salary of all provincial public servants who earn $100,000 or more.  While this prompts an annual orgy of outrage in the right-wing tabloids, the disclosure does serve a useful purpose.  It allows us a glimpse into what is otherwise private information.

    Here are a few of the job titles of people in my community who made the so-called “sunshine list” in 2011:

    • Field Services Supervisor
    • Manager of Human Resources
    • Construction Technician
    • Firefighter
    • Patrol Constable
    • Secondary School Teacher
    • Registered Nurse

    It could be argued, of course, that everyone on the list is vastly over-compensated, that the disclosure simply proves that civil servants are coddled and tax-payers are abused.  That is a two-beer question which I won’t take on here.

    I have no access to salary levels in the private sector, but there are members of our churches who do.  It would not surprise me to learn that many of our members who work in private sector jobs have annual earnings well in excess of $100,000.

    It could also be argued that church members who pay the pastor’s salary are predominantly “seniors living on a fixed income”.  While this may be true, I am continually amazed at how many of these fixed incomes are able to cover expensive vacations — sometimes several per year — but apparently not increases to clergy compensation.

    Bishop Stephen Kristenson has pointed out that it would only take 10 members who tithe to pay the pastor the average of what they earn.  How many members would it take to start a healthy conversation about how much we pay our pastors?

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